You don’t wrap these presents in a box. You can’t wear them, play with them or show them off, at least not in the real world.
Even so, virtual gifts — computer-generated items given and displayed online — are quickly becoming must-haves. And increasingly, people are willing to pay cold, hard, real-life cash to purchase them for friends, family and co-workers.
“For the person who gets the gift, it is like a badge of honour,” says Dave Coffey, who tracks online trends for Sapient, a Florida-based marketing company.
Coffey’s gotten into the act himself, buying a few $1 gifts on Facebook, the social networking website. He purchased a pair of virtual shoes for his wife for her birthday, a can of “whoop-ass” for a friend who got a new job, and a virtual beer to pay a bet he lost to his boss.
They are nothing more than cutesy icons posted in a “gifts” section on a person’s profile page, the smiley faces of the 21st century.
Since they were introduced in February, Facebook says its users have purchased more than 24 million of these dollar items.
Elsewhere online, including virtual world sites such as Second Life, Utherverse and Stardoll, people can give gift certificates so their friends’ avatars, or online personalities, can shop at “malls” on the sites.
Just like the real world, appearance matters in the virtual world. Gifts of digital clothing, accessories, makeup and even digital furnishings for an avatar’s virtual home are especially popular. A pair of virtual boots, for instance, might cost $2 or $3 in a world where one could pay $20 or $30 for an intricately designed “skin,” an avatar’s outer layer.
Jeff Roberts, a New Yorker who is one of about 11 million Second Life “residents,” has given SL gift certificates, worth real money, to friends and co-workers.
The ease of giving a virtual gift is definitely part of the attraction, he says.
“A few clicks and it’s done. No worries about FedEx or the post office getting it there on time,” Roberts says.